Our School, Our Town (Part 1)

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By Caroline Chu

Every “theatre person” has one show that made them fall in love with the world of performance, whether it’s the first show they ever saw or the first one that made them feel connected to something. For me, that show was T.S. Eliot’s Cats, but for so many, that show is Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. First performed in 1938, the play centers around life at the beginning of the twentieth century in a small New Hampshire town called Grover’s Corners. There’s almost always a production of Our Town going on somewhere in the country. I’d be willing to bet that every single one of you knows someone who has a connection to Our Town, whether they performed in it or taught it or read it in high school. I was surprised to learn that a play, an old play, has had such a profound effect on people’s lives. So—what makes Our Town so special? Why is a 76-year-old show set in 1901 with no set and no props still relevant?

To be honest, I was skeptical when I heard that this year’s fall show was going to be Our Town. I knew nothing about the show except that everyone seemed to be thrilled about it, and, for some reason, every time I brought it up to an adult, they would suddenly branch into some story about a narrator and a boy and a girl and life and death and baseball. Before auditions, I got worried—this show is older than my grandparents, so won’t high schoolers be bored by it? Will people understand it? Am I going to be able to relate to it at all?

Then, I sat down to read the play.

I had no idea what I was feeling as I closed my script. I wasn’t crying, but something was different, and I just sat and stared at a spot on the table for a little while, processing. Now, as I go through the rehearsal process, I’m starting to realize that this play is completely different from anything I’ve done before, and I’m beginning to understand why it has touched so many people.

Our Town barely has any set. The stage is black; there are two tables, some benches and chairs, and two trellises. What makes it so relatable, though, is what goes on on this blank stage. It’s just…life. These are people making breakfast and reminiscing with their spouses, people provoking their siblings and rushing to school, people struggling with their homework, people falling in love and saying goodbye. The dynamic that exists in these relationships is so familiar that it’s difficult not to connect to it in some way—come see it if you don’t believe me. Maybe you don’t sit and string beans with your mother, and maybe you don’t buy strawberry phosphates with your allowance, and maybe you don’t know what heliotrope smells like, but that won’t stop you from finding something meaningful in Our Town.

There’s something oddly perfect about beginning my senior year with this show. One of the characters in the play asks, “Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it? –every, every minute?” If you think about it, no, we don’t. So often, I find myself moving through my day and thinking about nothing except college applications or what I need to do to prepare for the next day. This is exactly Wilder’s point: rarely do we pause to take stock of the little things in our lives that make living them so wonderful.  Right now, I’m preparing to leave the school that I’ve walked into almost every day for the last fourteen years. It feels like just yesterday that I was walking into the Lower School and meeting the rest of Mrs. Meyers’ Green Bears for the first time. It’s strange and terrifying to think about, but it makes me want to savor every moment of my last year at Latin. I like to think I’ve done a fine job so far, but it’s easy to forget that this is the only time I have to be a senior in high school. I’m lucky that I have this show to remind me. It is my hope that you’ll feel the same way when you see it, too. And that’s what Our Town is about, really. It’s about taking it all in, because our time here goes by so fast that we barely have time to look at one another.

 

Our Town will run October 15th, 16th, and 17th at 7 PM in the Wrigley Theater. It is open to the public. Tickets are free.

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